John’s still busy mak­ing a good life in Mata­mata

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By NICOLA STE­WART

John Christo­phers has spent two-thirds of his life in Mata­mata and has ‘‘ en­joyed ev­ery mo­ment of it, re­ally’’.

The World War II and Korean War vet­eran will cel­e­brate his 90th birth­day this week­end with many of his clos­est friends and fam­ily.

‘‘ I’m rather look­ing for­ward to it ac­tu­ally,’’ he told the Chron­i­cle last week.

Mr Christo­phers was born in Dunedin on Fe­bru­ary 15, 1924.

His fam­ily lived in Geral­dine, south of Christchurch, be­fore mov­ing to the Cen­tral Otago town of Lawrence, where he at­tended school.

In 1940, they moved to Hamil­ton and Mr Christo­phers started work at the Bank of New South Wales, as his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther had be­fore him.

It wasn’t long be­fore he had joined a few sports clubs, as well as the Home Guard and Train­ing Corps.

‘‘ It might in­ter­est peo­ple to know, that in the 1940s, in the Home Guard, we dug slit trenches in Gar­den Place.

‘‘Things were pretty rugged back then.’’

Mr Christo­phers had al­ways wanted to be a pilot so, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Un­for­tu­nately, he suf­fered from ex­treme air sick­ness and spent the re­main­der of World War II in Fiji and Tonga, pay­ing troop wages and study­ing for a bach­e­lor of com­merce.

In 1950, when the chance came up to serve in Korea, he joined the army and was as­signed to the 162 Bat­tery.

He spent 12 months in Korea as a tech­ni­cal as­sis­tant or ‘‘tech ack’’ be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand to train re­in­force­ments.

Af­ter leav­ing the army, he found it dif­fi­cult to set­tle back into Hamil­ton, so ap­plied for a job as an accountant for Ti­rau store owner Bill Rose.

‘‘ I went down and had an in­ter­view and I started that af­ter­noon,’’ he said.

In 1953, the same year he moved to Mata­mata, he was mar­ried to Nancy Thom­lin­son in Palmer­ston North.

‘‘That was a pretty im­por­tant year for me,’’ he said.

Through Mr Rose, he be­came in­volved in the Mata­mata Rac­ing Club and held the po­si­tion of sec­re­tary for 33 years.

‘‘As far as rac­ing was con­cerned, those days there wasn’t much com­pe­ti­tion and the pop­u­la­tion of the town was only about 4000,’’ he said.

‘‘ We used to have races twice a year, on a Satur­day in Fe­bru­ary and in July. About 4000 would go, rac­ing was quite im­por­tant in Mata­mata, even then.

‘‘We did make a bit of his­tory by con­duct­ing a huge on-course jackpot in, I think, 1973. Be­tween 30 and 40 thou­sand came to the races that day and we had to em­ploy se­cu­rity to keep them off the course the night be­fore.

‘‘ It went off pretty well ac­tu­ally. It was a nice winter’s day and we had one com­plaint from a guy who reck­oned he was sold a frozen pie. I went and talked to the cafe and they said they had sold 20 thou­sand pies that day, so one frozen pie wasn’t a bad pass rate.’’

Mr Christo­phers is now a life mem­ber of the club.

He is also a life mem­ber of the Mill Cres­cent Kinder­garten, which he helped to es­tab­lish along­side Bob Black, Joe McEwen, Zorra White, and many oth­ers.

He and Nancy, a school den­tal nurse, had six chil­dren, who were all ed­u­cated in Mata­mata.

Mr Christo­phers was on the Mata­mata Pri­mary School com­mit­tee for 10 years, as well as the Mata­mata Col­lege board of gover­nors.

He was in­volved in the es­tab­lish­ment of Pohlen Hos­pi­tal, of­fer­ing his ser­vices as an accountant, and was a trus­tee for many years.

For nine years, he was a coun­cil­lor on the Mata­mata Bor­ough Coun­cil, in­clud­ing six as chair­man of works com­mit­tee and six as deputy mayor.

He is a life mem­ber of the Mata­mata RSA and still ac­tively in­volved in the Kore­ans Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion.

Last year, he was one of 12 vet­er­ans to fea­ture in a book pub­lished by the Mi­nis- try for Cul­ture and Her­itage - The War That Never Ended: New Zealand Vet­er­ans Re­mem­ber Korea.

He con­tin­ues to of­fer his ser­vices to the com­mu­nity and re­views ac­counts for about 12 to 15 lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

‘‘I’m more or less still in pos­ses­sion of my mar­bles I think,’’ he says.

One thing he will al­ways re­mem­ber about Mata­mata, he said, is how good peo­ple were to him in the early days.

‘‘It was cer­tainly dif­fer­ent back then.

‘‘I have never re­gret­ted com­ing here.’’

Mile­stone: Long-time Mata­mata res­i­dent John Christo­phers cel­e­brates his 90th birth­day this Satur­day.

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